This is the second in a series of introductory posts, outlining the different people within the Meaningful Consent project.
Hi, we are Michael Vlassopoulos, Mirco Tonin and Helia Marreiros from the division of Economics at the University of Southampton. We use experiments, both in the lab and in the field, to do research in behavioural economics with a particular focus in public and organizational economics.
Our particular areas of interest within the meaningful consent in the digital economy project (MCDE) are connected with the economics of privacy. Our aim in this project is to contribute to the behavioural economics of privacy and move a step forward developing a framework to understand the behavioural economics of meaningful consent and digital economy.
The economics of privacy attempts to study the costs and benefits associated with the protection or disclosure of personal data – for the data subject, the data holder, and for society as a whole. As a field of research, it has been active for some decades. One of the main research questions is if there is a combination of economic incentives and technological solutions to privacy issues that is acceptable for the individual and beneficial to society.
To understand the benefits of the digital economy for the individual, it is essential to study his actual behaviour, hence the behavioural economics of privacy.
In today’s digital era, increasingly many of our daily market transactions as well as social interactions are occurring online. This raises numerous questions and challenges that can be fruitfully addressed applying the standard tools in an economist’s toolbox (i.e. the rational choice model of consumer behaviour), enriched by insights stemming from Behavioural Economics (e.g. biases in decision-making) and data obtained applying experimental methods. Some exemplary research questions we are interested are:
- Do people value online privacy?
- Is there heterogeneity in the preferences for privacy?
- Is there a paradox between stated attitudes toward online privacy and actual behaviour?
- Are users aware of the “risks” associated with sharing personal information online?
- If not, is it because of the costs associated with acquiring information (time, cognitive effort, financial cost, technological obstacles)?
- Can sharing choices be made more meaningful through the dissemination of relevant information (or nudges) regarding the “risks”?
- Do behavioural biases affect users’ choices regarding sharing personal information online? Here are some example of possible biases relevant in this field:
- Bounded Rationality – Framing effects, Limited Attention
- Endowment effect – Loss Aversion
- Present Bias – Self Control problems, overconfidence.
Presently, we are mapping preferences for online privacy, where we observe attitudes, private actions (give private information for free) and public actions (support for a privacy advocacy group).
This first study is very relevant to informed consent. Once the trade-off between privacy and services is highlighted in an intelligible way (as opposed to current terms and conditions that nobody reads), understanding how this is going to change attitudes/private actions/public actions is important. We may well expect that a negative frame affects people’s attitudes, but will it change also how they behave? Not obvious at all given the results on disconnection between attitudes and actions observed in many economic markets.
Mapping users’ preferences and behaviour on online privacy and meaningful consent can help policy makers and organizations in general to find a common ground in the “Terra incognita” that digital economy still is.
Moreover, this knowledge can help the design of automated vs manual negotiation models studied by other members of our team in the Agents, Interaction and Complexity Research Group of the School of Electronics and Computer Science.
Our final goal is that the research we produce in this project can help decisions of policy makers and organizations and therefore have an impact on society.